Team Canada was the steamrolling, bullyboy juggernaut of the world junior hockey championship until they ran into a pugnacious U.S. team Tuesday that knocked them off 2-0 to win gold.
The U.S. players poured over the bench as the buzzer sounded, tossing sticks and gloves aloft in an empty Rogers Place. The tournament was played with no fanatics in the stands to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
They linked up and swayed with delight on the blue line, lustily singing their anthem as the American flag rose to the rafters as the Canadians, many with their heads down, leaned on their sticks and contemplated what might have been. For their celebratory center ice photo, they included a blue barrel emblazoned with the Hockey Canada logo. The barrel, they said represented their mindset, never looking past the next barrel or marker on their way to gold.
Canadian captain Bowen Byram had tears in his eyes as he handed out the silver medals to his teammates.
It’s the first gold medal for the Americans since they won it all in 2017.
U.S. winger Trevor Zegras led the way, scoring a goal and adding an assist. He was named tournament MVP.
American goaltender Spencer Knight, a 2019 top pick by the Florida Panthers, turned aside 34 shots for his third shutout of the tournament, tying the record set by Canada’s Devon Levi this year and by Justin Pogge in 2006.
Canada took home the silver medal. Finland beat Russia 4-1 earlier Tuesday to win bronze.
“I think we surprised them in the first two periods with how well we played below their hashmarks,” said Zegras.
“You could tell they hadn’t seen that kind of ground game from any other team in the tournament. We got a couple of quick goals early in those periods and from there we just kind of put it on shutdown mode and played great defence.”
Zegras, a 2019 first-round draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks, was the top scorer of the tournament (seven goals, 11 assists).
Alex Turcotte also scored for the U.S. Knight was spectacular at times, particularly when the Canadians stormed and buzzed the net late in the second period and came in waves in the third.
Knight stoned Connor McMichael on a breakaway with three minutes left in the game, prompting the Canadian to slam his stick on the glass in frustration. Levi made 19 saves in the loss.